Sydney Swans team spirit bonds my family

I'm a Sydney Swans tragic through and throughI’ve been a Sydney Swans fan for more than a decade and like many sports fans, transitioning from a young single fan free to attend games or watch on TV, to a fan with family responsibilities and trying to juggle those family commitments around my love for the game, has been difficult. But when the sport is as family friendly as the AFL is, and the team is as special as the Sydney Swans are, well the effort is worth it.

It has been a challenge to balance my love of the Sydney Swans with family life. Earlier this year we cancelled our Foxtel because it was a luxury we felt we could not afford, or that did not offer good value for money. With that went my ability to watch every Swans game, very few of which are broadcast on free-to-air television in Brisbane. But it’s just one of the sacrifices that a fan-as-parent must make sometimes. When you become a mother other things take priority.

But I have maintained my devotion to the team and to the game as much as I could. This year we started taking the kids to Brisbane Lions games and have encouraged friends of ours to also take their children, thus growing the AFL fan base in an NRL market.

And as my children, 7, 6 and almost 5, have participated in watching the games alongside their dad and me, their introduction to a lifelong love has begun.  (I’m thankful my code is the AFL because even though no football team is saintly, certainly, in my view, AFL players have not been as besmirched by the same level of scandal that has hit NRL players in the past decade.)

I believe that the Sydney Swans are a team long on respect. Respect for each other, for their families and for their fans.

I began following the Sydney Swans when I moved to Sydney in 2001, the team then under coach Rodney Eade. He had begun coaching the Swans in ’96 and taken them to a grand final, but since then they had foundered. In 2002 then-assistant coach Paul Roos took over. His approach to coaching and to the Swans was unique and I could see the club was trying to build something special, something positive. In 2002 I interviewed Swans CEO Kelvin Templeton for B&T Weekly and could see the winds of change were sweeping through the club and they were courting women – as fans, as mothers. Templeton proudly revealed 40% of the Swans membership was made up of women.

Long story short, Roos took the Swans to two grand finals in ’05 (which we won) and ’06 and was a man whose watchword was respect. He moulded a team culture that thrives, long after he has moved on, and built a sense of family – of brotherhood – that is unique to the Swans. Sure other teams have a strong culture of comradeship and the players are close, but you listen to Swans players and it’s special at the Swans, different to elsewhere. And Roos created that.

I was there, at the MCG in 2005, and got goosebumps and tears in my eyes when Paul Roos stood on the dias with the Premiership Cup and said:”For the people who have waited 72 years to see South Melbourne slash Sydney Swans win the premiership – HERE IT IS!”.

The Sydney Swans are a success story against all odds, a team transplanted and uprooted from their supporter base, dumped in the heart of NRL territory and 30 years later are a shining example of the power of self-belief and gritty determination.

John Longmire took over from Roos in 2011 and the Swans have continued to grow. I believe the Swans have a style of play that doesn’t rely on grubby dirty tricks or on being anything less than worthy adversaries. They are honourable players.

So, for yesterday’s grand final hubby and I gathered the kids around and settled in to watch what we were sure would be a gripping game. And it was. I won’t bore you with recounting the match, but needless to say, it had its ups and downs and at the end, Seven commentator Dennis Cometti said it was the best grand final he could ever remember witnessing. That’s saying something.

And as a family event, the match provided a lot of teaching moments for the kids. They saw Adam Goodes go off injured, get strapped up and come back on. They saw him struggle valiantly to contribute to his team’s win, in any way he could. They saw a team dig in, never give up even when it seemed they were sure to lose. They saw players fight for every ball, every possession and they saw players, such as Ryan O’Keefe who was almost traded twice in recent years, give his all for the team he loves and be rewarded with the Norm Smith Medal.

I think my children learned a lot about life from that game yesterday. About how important it is not to listen to others, to set your goals and work hard to achieve them, about self-discipline, about being there for others even if you’re not the star, about not giving up at the first hurdle. There are a lot of life lessons in a footy game, and the Sydney Swans are worthy teachers.

Congratulations John Longmire on a wonderful achievement, and to the team of superstars. And thank-you, from a small family of fans.

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